It is never too late to be a working student.
For my fortieth birthday, I bought a new truck and I set out on a mission. Horses are my life, my career and my passion, but even though I teach people to ride every single day, I haven’t ridden for fun in nearly a decade.
A neighborhood methamphetamine user put a slight damper on my plans by assaulting me in his vehicle (I outran him in my new truck), but by mid-summer I was making a weekly sojourn to Seneca to get myself back on a horse.
The first few weeks were touch and go with me frantically texting our barn staff from one of many convenience stores along the side of the road in Pickens county.
“I should turn around and come home.”
“Think of baby cows, the woods, the fields, the green grass. You’ve got this,” Sarah and Sara texted in unison.
“I should really come home,” — something could colic, the hay delivery could be late, the well pump might break, the entire power grid of northern Greenville Co. could go out, there could be civil war; we should become preppers.
It had been years since I left the farm for anything other than a routine errand or an emergency trip. I always left for a reason. I couldn’t think of a reason to be anywhere when I was sitting on gas station curb near lake Keowee. The sunlight glinting off the water wasn’t soothing. I tried to breathe. These trips were for me. They weren’t for business. I’d been working so long I’d forgotten how to live.
“Maybe I should turn around,” I wrote the cowboy. “I’m stuck.”
“Put it in four wheel drive,” he said.
“I think I’ll come home.”
“Try once to go forward,” Maggy texted. “You know where you’re going, remember? Remember the horse you ride, remember what you tell us: forward is better than standing still and safer than backward. However, if it is not a good day, that’s ok too. But just try to go forward. You know it works and it’s safe.”
Safe. The word wouldn’t leave me. My safety zone was a ten mile radius around the horse farm we called home. I’d encountered anything but “safe” in the years I spent as an active rider. What did safe even mean? I couldn’t answer that question but I was sick of living as if safe was a destination I could discover if someone would hand me the right map. I had to drive forward and find a new meaning.
So I went. My soundtrack for these weekly trips was Sarah Jarosz, who recently made a stop at the Peace Center in Greenville. Her song, “Dark Road”, became my anthem:
Miraculously, I picked myself up from the curb, put the truck in drive and placed my foot in the stirrup.
Endless loops against the wall of a round pen I rediscovered the four-beat cadence of the walk. My body remembered what my mind had forgotten: I was home. I was okay. I was moving. I was safe in the face of uncertainty. I forgot the what if’s and the questions and just surrendered myself to the little dun horse that was assigned the task of baby-sitting my first movements back in the saddle. The saddle was western but my legs were jacked up to an English length. I crammed my heels down and breathed and pressed until the pressure created response. I kept moving forward.
I’d journal after every ride and stare quizzically at a page that was filled with short sentences. In this new journey, I’d lost the need for lengthy description, run-on sentences. I didn’t feel the need to explain myself. That was the first step in this journey.
About three rides in, the cowboy suggested we leave the safety of the fences and venture out through the fields and woods. I knew instinctively that if I rode far enough I would always find a fence, but I craved my comfort zone of round pen and paddock. I made it as far as the gate and this is pretty much how it went:
Cowboy: Get on the horse.
Cowboy: It’s just a trail ride, Kim.
Cowboy: You’ll be safe.
I stamped my foot. “No. I bought a truck to start coming here and I made it, even though I was scared. The world has not fallen apart in my absence, but I haven’t been eating well and I haven’t been sleeping well and I’m trying to work through something here. I’m not ready for the woods.”
The cowboy motioned for me to give him my rein.
I stared at the little dun horse and the rein in my hand and I thought about what Maggy said about going forward.
I handed the rein over.
The late July fields were green and there was a coolness to the woods and streams that promised relief from the thousand hounds of life that press us to always be doing and doing and doing. I followed the lead of the horse in front of me and put one foot in front of the other until my hips recalled the memory of the walk. The cowboy gave me my rein back.
I have to document this journey. It’s never to late to be a working student. When we arrived back to the barn after the trail ride, I picked up a rope. I’ve worked around horses my entire life but have never tried roping. I thought about all those great teachers who always preached the value of being an eternal student: always forward, never back. On the drive back to my farm, I called all the mentors and trainers I’d lost touch with along the way.
“Teach me, let me watch you. Show me all the things I was never ready to learn,” I said.
And this is where my story starts.